December 7, 2018

Men encouraged to take responsibility, walk with Christ

Robbie Falcone, right, and his sons Elijah and Jonah (partially obscured) of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Richmond, attend Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis during the Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference on Nov. 10. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

Robbie Falcone, right, and his sons Elijah and Jonah (partially obscured) of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Richmond, attend Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis during the Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference on Nov. 10. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

By Katie Rutter (Special to The Criterion)

The sound was as powerful as it was deep and rich. Hundreds of men raised their voices in a hymn of praise that filled a ballroom in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.

“Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you’re my God,” the attendees sang, kicking off the annual Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference on Nov. 10.

All of the nearly 400 men gathered were aware that, outside these walls, a society was reeling from the pain and frustration caused by abuse and the evil actions of a few of their fellow men. As this group raised their voices to acknowledge God first and foremost, however, they took the first step toward healing the brokenness around them.

“Four hundred guys turned up on a Saturday when they could be doing something else,” said Father Dwight Longenecker, one of the conference speakers and the pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Greenville, S.C., in the Diocese of Charleston, S.C. “They’re saying, ‘Right, I care about my spiritual life, I care about who I am and what God wants me to do.

“This is hugely encouraging,” he added.

The daylong conference combined practical advice for living the faith, theological explanations and spiritual renewal. The event is sponsored annually by the Marian Center of Indianapolis in partnership with the archdiocese.

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Father Longenecker, who served as an Anglican priest for 10 years before he and his family were received into the full communion of the Church, gave two presentations focused on restoring a fallen humanity through faith in God.

“A lot of the crisis in masculinity today is that we’ve got a Peter Pan syndrome. We’ve got too many lost boys who refuse to man up and grow up, and that simply means taking responsibility,” Father Longenecker told The Criterion.

“It doesn’t mean any kind of a macho, domineering sort of masculinity which goes around shooting people up and oppressing women, but it’s a gentle, strong, taking responsibility and saying, ‘Right, I’m gonna do something about this.’ ”

The theme of the conference was appropriately “Walking with Christ and the Cross.” Mike Fox, the conference director and a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, explained that organizers chose the theme to encourage participants through any challenges that they face.

“Christ walked with a cross, so we walk together,” he said, “but we have to go to Christ to really help us through a lot of these challenges, and there are many today.”

Participants ranged in age from high school students to others in post‑retirement. While men of each age group shared that they had unique challenges, all agreed that living the faith required a courage and gentle strength found only in God.

“It’s especially hard to evangelize because when you challenge people with their own personal views they become very defensive,” explained Will Smith, 23, a member of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis.

“It’s all about that caring—caring and making sure that they feel they’re loved,” he added.

“It seems to be more and more difficult to really talk about your religion these days,” explained retiree John Hanagan, a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “None of us should be afraid to go out and talk to others about what we believe.”

Speaker Tom Peterson, founder of Catholics Come Home and VirtueMedia, focused specifically on small ways to share the faith and to evangelize. He encouraged men to respond to the common question, “How are you?” with the confident, “I’m blessed.”

Catholics Come Home has reached more than 250 million viewers in the past 20 years through commercials inviting inactive Catholics and others to take a closer look at the Church today to learn more about it. Peterson suggested that if a friend or acquaintance confides a problem, Catholics can ask if they can pray for the person, then say a short prayer with them right then and there.

The host of the “Catholics Come Home” series on the Eternal Word Television Network also emphasized that men should use their specific talents to serve God.

“I used to serve the poor with food and clothing and all that, and that’s all good, but then God reminded me, ‘Hey, I gave you talents in advertising for a reason,’ ” Peterson recalled.

“Use those God-given talents you’ve been given to bloom in the mission field where God has planted you. And be that child that he has wanted you to be with the talents and interests he has given you.”

Conference participants had the opportunity to witness to their faith in the midst of the event. Mass was celebrated across the street from the Convention Center at St. John the Evangelist Church. Following Mass, the men participated in a public rosary and eucharistic procession.

Saying prayers aloud, they followed the Blessed Sacrament across the street, around the corner of the Convention Center and back through its hallways. Hundreds of people who were waiting in the building for other events looked on.

“Being Catholic isn’t just about going to church every Sunday, it’s a whole way of life. You gotta pray. Don’t be afraid to say rosaries in public,” Smith explained.

The sacrament of penance was also offered through the afternoon. Even with several priests available, men still waited in a line to confess their sins and receive God’s mercy.

Speaker Father Ben Luedtke, a missionary and evangelist, explained that embracing God’s forgiveness was absolutely essential for men. He also credited it as “the only way” men will heal past abuses and move forward with a just society.

“Every man that I’ve ever seen go to confession, he’s got a beautiful family, he’s got a family that are devoted, children that are good, that have a chance of surviving,” explained Father Luedtke, who was ordained a priest in 1982 by St. John Paul II and has ministered in Brazil, Canada, Italy and the U.S.

“We need something to let [us] start over again,” he noted.

Father Luedtke pointed to the husband and father as the leader, and therefore the example, for the rest of the family.

Conference participant Robbie Falcone, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Richmond who attended with his two teenage sons, Jonah and Elijah, also called on fathers to take that same leadership role in living out the faith.

“Parents have to want their kids to want to go to these things and maybe at times kind of give them a nudge,” he said with a smile, explaining that it was difficult to wake his boys up at 6:30 a.m. to drive to the conference.

“Having more support with you helps you and encourages you to go to these things and become a stronger faith-filled person,” Elijah Falcone agreed.

Conference organizers and speakers hoped that the event would help supply the strength, the knowledge and spiritual renewal necessary for these men to continue living their faith.

“God reminds us that he needs men that are heroes for the faith to bring their families along, to help pray with each other and love each other to heaven,” Peterson said.

“Get up, man up, grow up,” Father Longenecker challenged. “Get out and do stuff for God—and live your faith.”

(Katie Rutter is a freelance writer and member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington.) †

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